If you are starting a farm or hobby farm, one of the first things you will likely want to do is get some animals. I mean what is a farm without livestock, right? One of the more foolproof animals to raise are pigs, they are hearty, they grow fast, and they don’t require a heck of a lot of space. Want to know the best part about pigs? They are made of pork! AND BACON! I have been raising pigs for three years now and I still have a lot to learn but in this post, I will share with you what I have learned so far.
Humans began domesticating swine around 10,000 years B.C. and have found so much success doing so that there are now around one billion domestic swine in the world today, making it one of the most highly populated large mammals on earth. Swine, or hog, is the proper name for pigs, as “pig” is the proper term for young swine, and “hog” is the proper term for swine weighing over 120 pounds. For my purposes and for the purpose of this blog, I am going to call them pigs. When they are little I call them pigs, and when they are big, I call them pigs. Now that we have a brief history lesson and our terminology set, let’s get started.
When somebody asks me if I want the good news first, I always say give me the bad news first so the good news might cheer me up. So let’s start with the bad news about pigs.
- Pigs stink. Pigs eat a lot of food and a lot of that food ends up going right out the back side. If you are raising one or two and they have quite a bit of space, it isn’t so bad. If you are raising nine like we are this year, it stinks. If you don’t believe me, feel free to ask Kristin, she thinks they stink and she reminds me often. Apparently, I told her that they wouldn’t stink and they most certainly do. I’m not sure if it is all the hits to the head I took playing football or if the fumes from the pig poop are killing my brain cells, but either way, I don’t remember telling her that! Anyway, pigs stink.
- Pigs are a bit destructive. Pigs will instinctively root up the ground in whatever area you keep them in. If you have a dedicated pig pen like we do, this isn’t much of a problem. If you want to have a pig running around your yard, you are going to have some torn up grass.
- Profit margins on pigs are pretty low. You aren’t going to get rich raising a few pigs. In my experience, if the pigs you sell cover the cost of keeping one for yourself, you are doing pretty good.
Fun Fact: Pigs have such a strong sense of smell they are used in Europe to find truffles in the ground.
- As the title of this blog suggests, pigs are easy to raise. Keep them contained, keep the feeder full, make sure they have plenty of water. That’s about it.
- They don’t require a fancy or elaborate shelter. I built a 16’x16′ three-sided building with a 16’x16′ fenced in area, and it isn’t anything special. I made it out of scrap lumber and tin that my uncle Brian and I salvaged from a building we tore down. Heck, one of the corner posts is a log from a tree I cut down in the yard! (In the spirit of being totally honest, I have to admit I use the word “built” with a pinch of artistic freedom. Truthfully, I “started building” the pig pen and stopped the minute it was suitable for pigs to live in. Finishing the pig pen is on my to-do list and will be in an upcoming blog about unfinished projects.)
- Pigs grow quickly. A little clicking around on the interwebs will reveal that it takes, on average, 6 months for a pig to get from 40 pounds to a standard butcher weight of 270 pounds. I prefer to bring my pigs to the butcher when they are around 250 pounds. If you are raising more than one pig this can be difficult because some will grow faster than others. A couple years ago we had one pig that took forever to get to a suitable butchering weight, all the other pigs got to about 330 pounds waiting for the little one to get to 250. Pigs will also grow at different weights based on living conditions and feed. In three years it hasn’t taken us more than 5 months to finish a pig. The quick return on investment is a nice bonus of raising pigs.
- Pigs are made of BACON! Enough said.
Big Fun Fact: The largest domestic pig ever recorded was named Big Bill, he weighed nearly 2500 pounds before he broke his leg and was put down in 1933. That’s a big pig!
Ok, now that the pros and cons of pigs have been laid out, let’s go over a few pointers to successfully raise pigs. If you follow these six basic tips you should have a pretty good shot at having a freezer full of pork and hopefully a few bucks in your pocket.
- Don’t overpay for your feeder pigs(baby pigs). Given the small profit margins on pigs, overpaying for them, in the beginning, can put you in a hole you won’t be able to climb out of. In our area, I regularly see feeder pigs for sale for $80-100. If your goal is to go broke raising pigs, go right ahead and buy those. I buy my feeder pigs from an Amish farmer about 30 miles away from our hobby farm, he charges $50 per feeder pig, at that price, there is still some meat on the bone(pun intended) for me when I sell the pigs in the fall.
- If you live in a cold climate as
we do here in northern Minnesota, get you pigs early in the year, otherwise, you will still have them when the temperatures start getting cold. If this happens your feed bill will go up considerably because the pigs will be spending valuable calories trying to stay warm instead of growing.
- Feed your pigs high-quality food. They say you are what you eat, well that applies to pigs as well. Pigs will eat almost anything, but if you are feeding them rotten leftover food they may end up tasting like rotten leftovers. There are commercial pig farms that feed their pigs all the leftover foods from buffets in Las Vegas. In my opinion, when people buy farm raised pork, there is an expectation that they have been fed high-quality food. We feed our pigs the standard pig ration from our local grain elevator, it is 80% corn and 20% soy with a mix of minerals added in. The pigs love it and they grow fast on it, so I am sticking with it. We full feed our pigs which means they have access to as much food as they want all the time. We also supplement the pig feed with fresh vegetable scraps from our kitchen, grass, and apples when they are available.
- Pigs love mud, so give them some mud! I dug a little pool into our pig pen and I try to keep it full of water at all times. When the weather is hot the pigs will lay in it all day long. When I bring the hose out to fill it up the pigs go crazy! They run around and splash and play like little kids running through a sprinkler. Keeping them cool in the summer will also help keep your feed bill down, I have noticed that they don’t eat nearly as much when they are hot, they just lay there trying to stay cool.
- Don’t buy more pigs than you are confident you can sell. If you can’t sell a pig or two you will either have to keep them until you have a buyer or pay to butcher it yourself. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So, begin the process of selling your pigs before you even buy your feeder pigs, and don’t stop until you have them all spoken for.
- Call the butcher to reserve your date well before your pigs are ready to be butchered. If you wait until your pig is 250 pound to call the butcher you will end up with a 350-pound pig before you get it in. Butcher shops start filling up early in the fall and it only gets worse as hunting season approaches.
Delicious Fact: The average American eats 18 pounds of bacon per year!
I want to briefly touch on a topic that can be a little more controversial or difficult for some people to talk about. I get these questions quite often. “How can you kill those pigs? They are so cute!” “How can you see those pigs every day and then eat them?” I have a pretty short and simple answer to that. I recognize my place at the top of the food chain and I recognize that it is my responsibility to provide for my family, I feel remorse that these pigs will give their lives because of that. Just like when I shoot a deer, I do not delight in the animal dying and I am grateful for the animal. I do try to make the lives of our pigs as good as they can be in their short time here. Our animals are treated with dignity and respect, they live in good conditions and are fed good food. If you observed our pigs, you would see animals that appear to be happy. I find comfort in the fact that the pork I eat is from a pig that lived a better life than the pig whose meat is in the grocery store. That’s all I have to say about that.
Not so fun fact: 97% of pigs are raised in factory farms.
So there you have it folks, pigs are easy to raise and delicious! If you have any questions or are interested in some Whiskey Creek Farm pork for next year, let us know! Thanks for stopping by and make sure to keep an eye out for my next post, Unfinished Projects.
Have a great weekend!